Sports aren’t just ‘for the boys’

Women are shut out of sports conversations, but they have a lot to say

By Emilia Beuger, Assistant Op-Ed Editor

Over the past few years, conversations surrounding women’s involvement in and knowledge of sports have been at the forefront of the public consciousness. Cam Newton’s infamous comment about it being funny hearing a woman discuss routes stands out as an example of how women are not taken seriously in conversations about sports. Sexism pervades professional sports culture, especially in leagues like the National Football League where there are few women discussing the game. Not only is this lack of representation present, it is indicative of the culture that is occurring on the ground. The lack of female voices in sports conversations is happening in everyday life, not just during a Carolina Panthers press conference.

Often when I talk about sports, men will immediately assume that I have no idea what I am talking about. There is even a belief that a girl may be talking about sports as a way to impress men. This has been demonstrated in popular culture with satirical tweets that involve women saying they like sports and men holding them to an impossible standard of knowledge, such as knowing the blood type of a coach. This is obviously an exaggeration, but it does demonstrate how women are held to a higher standard when it comes to sports conversations. If a woman talks about sports, she is expected to know everything or else she is dismissed as just trying to impress men.

This idea that girls like sports in order to be “for the boys” is extremely problematic. While researching for this article, I have found blog posts from women talking about how they struggled to find their voice in sports-related conversations. Some discuss how it is very difficult to be a part of football culture when they themselves may be more of a stereotypical “girly girl.” I relate to this as a girl who is very interested in fashion and loves to wear dresses. My appearance and personality work against me in sports conversations because I don’t fit the mold of a sports fan. But, past my appearance, I can hold my own in football and hockey conversations. Unfortunately, women are relegated to conversations about football and other sports through pink-themed workshops made for women to help them understand sports, as was the case in 2016 when an Ohio company hosted an event about “How to Use Sports to Talk to Guys.”

All of this stems from the inherent belief that women have less sports knowledge than men. Jessica Mendoza, a baseball analyst on ESPN, has been criticized by viewers, with one saying that Mendoza “doesn’t belong in the booth with men discussing a game she knows nothing about. It’s like watching a game with a girlfriend.” But Stacey Pope, a sociology professor, writes, “there is a need to move away from distinctions between males as ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ supporters [of sports teams] and females as ‘inauthentic’ or not ‘real’ fans.”

I recognize that some women do not have first-hand experience playing some sports. Most women have never played a game of football, aside from maybe joining a pick-up game or their high school “Powder Puff” game. Personally, I never had the chance to play hockey growing up, although looking back I wish I had seen more women playing hockey and known that I would become a huge fan of the sport when I got older. It’s true that women do not have the same opportunities as men to play sports, but this does not make a woman any less qualified when discussing a game.

“Watching a game with a girlfriend” should not mean watching a game with someone who will never be able to comprehend sports. Stop shutting women out. Many of us have not had opportunities to experience sports in the same way as men, and by denying women the chance to discuss and learn more, we continue the cycle of systemic gender bias. Just because a woman doesn’t know every single thing about a hockey player’s life doesn’t mean that she does not have anything to contribute to the conversation. I would like to be able to have constructive conversations about sports without boys thinking that I am just doing it to garner their attention or that I, as a woman, will never be able to understand sports because that it outside my gender’s realm of understanding. Of course, this is not meant to slam men or claim that all men are sexist, but these unconscious biases affect much more than just conversations about sports.

I watch hockey and football because I enjoy it. I love to discuss plays, trades and everything in between. I am by no means an expert, but I think I have meaningful things to contribute to sports conversations. My gender should not impact my knowledge or credibility when talking about sports, and the fact that it does needs to change.

Emilia Beuger is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]